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Hakeem Jeffries, House Democratic leader

Inside the fight for committee gavels if House Dems win

If House Democrats win the majority in November, they’ll have immediate decisions to make on some of the most important issues facing their caucus — who’ll serve as committee chairs during the 118th Congress.

The sensitivity of these decisions can’t be overstated. They touch on age, race, gender, geographical balance, leadership loyalty and political viability for those who are denied a gavel.

It’s also worth noting that the last time Democrats were in the majority, their top trio of leaders were all octogenarians, as is President Joe Biden. Current House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries is only 53. Minority Whip Katherine Clark is 60, while Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar is a veritable youngster at 44 (he will turn 45 in a couple of weeks.) This is a totally different dynamic than 2022.

And if former President Donald Trump wins on Nov. 5 and House Democrats are somehow still successful — that’s a very big if — this becomes even more important. Republicans are in a very strong position to take the Senate, meaning the House could be Democrats only power base in Washington come January. Thus who runs House committees will be that much more important in taking on Trump.

Let’s look at the top question marks for House Democrats if they’re in the majority. In the other cases, we expect the ranking member to shift over to the chair.

Agriculture Committee: Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) faces doubts about his future due to his health problems. Scott got through last week’s farm bill markup, yet it was hardly pretty. If anything, Scott’s performance made the succession discussion more urgent.

Scott handily defeated Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) in 2020 for the gavel. Costa doesn’t seem to be making moves to succeed Scott, Democratic insiders say. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who is next in line, seems like he wants to stay at the Rules Committee. So at this point, the preferred option seems to be bringing in Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) or someone else to replace Scott, although that leaves a problem for Democrats at Homeland Security (more on that below).

The Congressional Black Caucus will have a major impact here. The CBC — a powerhouse inside the Democratic Caucus — isn’t going to want to give up a gavel.

There’s one other factor worth considering. If a new farm bill is passed during a lame-duck session, which is possible, then it becomes easier for Scott to stay in place. If there’s another extension and the full reauthorization fight is kicked into the next Congress, then it’s harder to see Scott staying in place.

Financial Services Committee: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will be 86 in August. But there’s every reason to believe that Waters — first elected to the House in 1990 — will be the chair in 2025 if Democrats are in the majority.

If for some reason Waters doesn’t do so, then Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) or Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) are seen as potential successors. That would lead to changes at the Small Business or Foreign Affairs panels respectively.

Homeland Security Committee: If Thompson moves over to Agriculture, that leaves an opening for a new Homeland Security chair. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) is next in line. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) is No. 3 among Democrats on the panel if SJL can’t or doesn’t take the gavel. Swalwell — a longtime panel vet — is a Democrat that Republicans love to hate, especially over allegations of ties to a suspected Chinese spy. Swalwell denied all wrongdoing, and the House Ethics Committee didn’t find anything either.

Yet this is another instance where the CBC could play a role. There are younger members who could potentially consider a challenge to Swalwell and get support from various factions within the Democratic Caucus, including the CBC.

Judiciary Committee: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) had his issues with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who effectively bypassed the New York Democrat in favor of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) during Trump’s first impeachment. But it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Nadler atop the Judiciary Committee with Jeffries as speaker. Nadler was a Jeffries ally early on, and we’d expect to see that loyalty repaid by Jeffries next year.

Natural Resources Committee: Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) announced he had cancer in April, and the 76-year-old Arizona Democrat isn’t expected back full-time until the fall, if then. Grijalva hasn’t cast a vote on the floor in more than a month.

If Grijalva can’t return as the top Democrat, then Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) is seen as the successor. There could be a challenge to Huffman from a more junior member, but the California Democrat would likely be able to overcome that.

China Select Committee: This is more a question of whether Jeffries decides to keep this panel in the next Congress rather than who runs it. Our guess is that Jeffries does, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) — the current ranking member — will serve as chair.

Krishnamoorthi has forged a good working relationship with Republicans on the select committee, which was the driving force behind the TikTok ban legislation and other measures.

To reiterate — we’re not making a prediction here as to whether Republicans or Democrats will control the House next Congress. We’ll do the same breakdown for the House GOP soon.

— John Bresnahan

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